Beyoncé is a fashion icon. So why can’t she sell leggings?
The star has struggled to make it in the rag trade
Beyoncé Knowles-Carter can sell out a stadium. But why can’t she sell clothing?
In March, Beyoncé and athletic brand Adidas decided to part ways after four years and seven collections. The Wall Street Journal reported sales for the brand totaled about $40 million in 2022, despite being projected to bring in $250 million, and down from $93 million in 2021.
When Beyoncé introduced her clothing line Ivy Park in 2016, it was a 50/50 partnership between her management company, Parkwood Entertainment, and Philip Green’s retail conglomerate Arcadia Group. Arcadia Group previously owned Topshop where Ivy Park was sold. Beyoncé bought out Arcadia Group’s interest in Ivy Park in 2018 after Green was accused of racism and sexual harassment.
A year later, she landed on what she called the “partnership of a lifetime” with Adidas, and said she was looking “forward to re-launching and expanding Ivy Park on a truly global scale with a proven, dynamic leader.”
The collections, though often worn by Beyoncé on magazine covers timed to their release, never seemed to get their footing with consumers, unlike celebrity athleisure lines such as singer Rihanna’s Fenty x Puma or rapper Ye’s Yeezy offering with Adidas.
Ivy Park isn’t Beyoncé’s first unsuccessful attempt to sell clothing. In 2004, Beyoncé launched House of Deréon with her mother, Tina Lawson, who often made costumes for the members of Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams.
The name of the line was a tribute to her maternal grandmother, Agnèz Deréon Beyincé, a seamstress who died before Beyoncé was born. The company was shuttered in 2012.
Despite collaborating on tour costumes with designers such as Thierry Mugler, Versace, Ralph & Russo, Diesel, and Gucci, Beyoncé doesn’t have an identifiable style offstage. It’s both a gift and a curse.
Beyoncé is one of one indeed, but that’s not conducive to shilling mass-market products.
She clued her audience into this when she rapped on “Alien Superstar,” the self-affirming third song on her seventh studio album, Renaissance, she’s a “mastermind in haute couture/label whores can’t clock, I’m so obscure (unique).”
For sneaker industry analyst Chris Burns, Ivy Park’s struggles had to do with relatability. “[House of Deréon] was good for a moment when she hadn’t had children, and that sounds really bad to say, but she was still relatable to girls who aspire to be like Beyoncé,” said Burns. “She wasn’t necessarily this queen Beyoncé as much as she was this Houston girl.”
Burns said those consumers are older now, perhaps even parents, making them a harder sell.
“They don’t necessarily look at fashion in the same way. But more importantly, when you look at Beyoncé, you have to look at women,” said Burns. “Women are better shoppers than men. You can’t pressure a woman into buying something. They are thoughtful consumers. They actually shop, they look for the best price and they are willing to wait.”
Jack McKinnon, senior director of cultural insights at Collage Group, a consumer research firm, said the Ivy Park pieces may have been too avant-garde for the average consumer. “My guess would be that it hit the wrong blend of too ‘out there’ and not affordable enough.”
He contrasted that with Ye’s success with Adidas. “Ye’s sneakers were a once-in-a-generation design success,” he said. “Ivy Park just didn’t land in the same way and apparel is a broader category to make a clear impression in, whereas sneakers are focused. It’s very likely that cost, category, and design just didn’t line up and no amount of celebrity power could save that.”
Ye is a consumer of his product. He’s studied fashion. He won’t shut up about how hard he works to make stylish and affordable products.
Burns breaks it down like this: Ye loves fashion, Beyoncé loves to be in fashion. “There’s a big difference between the person that loves fashion and lives and dies by it and wants to represent cool style,” said Burns. “The person who likes to wear fashion — it is playing dress-up. And playing dress-up doesn’t necessarily sell something unless it’s already hot.”
Consumers didn’t see Beyoncé incorporate Ivy Park into her life because we don’t see her life outside of her art. By comparison, a huge part of what made Fenty Puma by Rihanna successful when it was launched February 2016 was Rihanna herself.
“She went in and she got her hands dirty,” Burns said of Rihanna. “When you get your hands dirty, everything changes, it just gets better. … It doesn’t mean it’s going to work out. It means the likelihood increases that it will work out.”
When Rihanna ended a seven-year hiatus from the stage during the 2023 Super Bowl halftime show, she showed how she’s honed her marketing prowess since she’s been gone.
She paused between songs in her 13-minute set to powder her nose with Fenty Beauty Invisimatte Setting + Blotting Powder, earning the brand more than 180,708 engagements and more than 321 million impressions, according to AdAge.
That was way more than the commercial for streaming service Tubi, the most-talked about advertiser with 21,094 engagements during the #FentyBowl in February.
Rihanna also launched branded football-themed Fenty Beauty and Fenty Skin items in celebration of her appearance at the Super Bowl. There was a new lipstick featuring the shade she wore on her lips, Fenty Icon Velvet Liquid Lipstick in the shade “The MVP.” Her lingerie Savage x Fenty was selling branded items as well.
“At the end of the day, a quality product determines the success and hype behind a celebrity’s line,” said Krista Corrigan, a fashion and retail analyst at Edited, a retail market research firm. “Reflect on today’s most successful brands, from Kim Kardashian’s Skims to Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty. Both are frequently mentioned on social media and have the consumer’s stamp of approval to back them up.”
Burns pointed out that Ivy Park’s failure isn’t on Beyoncé but Adidas. The athletic brand had a good track record. In 2017, Adidas won the Grand Prix, a marketing award for their campaign Your Future Is Not Mine. But then something happened.
“They were crushing it,” Burns said. “When Adidas committed to Kanye, Adidas quit marketing and they quit doing everything that they were doing in the United States. Adidas solely relied on Kanye in the U.S. to lift the brand and in doing so they gave no energy to anything else. So this was more of an Adidas miss than it was a Beyoncé miss.”
In March, French Vogue unveiled Beyoncé’s latest fashion collaboration: Renaissance Couture, 16 looks designed by Balmain’s creative director Olivier Rousteing corresponding to tracks on the namesake album.
She and Rousteing worked together on a custom Balmain hoodie she wore during the Homecoming performance when she headlined Coachella 2018. The $1,790 sweatshirt would go on sale in 2019, with proceeds benefiting the United Negro College Fund.
Renaissance Couture won’t go on sale, but it aligns with what Beyoncé’s audience knows her to achieve: art at the highest level. This is why her athleisure isn’t selling. We believe the dream when she’s on stage but not on the treadmill at Planet Fitness.